Sunday, December 8, 2019
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PRIDE & PBIS at Dunbar in Lexington, Ky.

At Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, Kentucky, students use PRIDE as an acronym to stand for “Positive, Respectful, Involved, Dependable, and Excellence,” report Courtney Brewer and Yasuo Uno in The Lamplighter, the student newspaper at the high school.

The teachers, parents, and students who work behind the scenes, using a strategy that is familiar to many schools across the country known as “Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports,” or PBIS, keep working to improve the school, they write. Meeting at least once a month with a group of parents and students, Erin Adcock, the school’s behavior specialist, along with other members of the PBIS team, have a mission: “To spread positive culture across the school as an attempt to decrease negative behavior.”

“Our mission is to create a positive, safe environment for all students to work and learn,” the paper quotes her as saying. “It’s a positive, proactive system.”

Dunbar PRIDE plays an important role in the PBIS framework, since the path to a positive, safe environment for learning starts when people at the school identify what is expected in terms of behavior. The concept describes not just the sense of belonging that goes along with the word pride itself but five of the qualities that lead everyone—teachers, parents, and students—to a healthy school culture where learning flourishes.

Along the way, PBIS requires teachers to praise students who do things well. This is in keeping with the growth mindset all teachers try to encourage in their students, as Voxitatis reported late last year. PBIS is really just a variation on the growth mindset theme that also gives schools ideas about how to implement a strategy to encourage that mindset.

At the national level, however, there’s some dispute as to the effectiveness of PBIS strategies, not so much about rewarding good as well as punishing bad behavior, but more about what schools actually do to implement working PBIS programs.

The idea can be traced back to 1997, when Congress inserted language into the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, that would steer schools away from simply punishing negative behavior and toward a support system for all students that also rewards good behavior. Special education teams at schools were told, in the law, to consider “positive behavioral interventions, strategies, and supports” to reduce problem behavior.

At Dunbar, the “Bulldog Bucks” drawings acknowledge and reward students for good behavior. The school also turns table with its “Top Dawg” programs, where students can recognize teachers who have gone a step above and beyond the call of duty. The reward for the teachers is a special parking spot in the school lot, and that seems to work.

For students, on the other hand, just singling out one each month in a school that serves about 2,400 turned out to be insufficient. At a meeting of the Student Voice Team last month, that inadequacy in the reward structure was discussed, and the PBIS team decided that the student acknowledgement would switch to a weekly time frame.

This, then, is an example of how schools can go beyond just putting words like PBIS and PRIDE on a wall: they turn those acronyms into action. Administrators and teachers can’t just do whatever they want, and they can’t just run things the way they think they should be run without listening to student voices. That’s what the Student Voice Team at Dunbar is all about.

And it seems to work quite well, at least according to one Student Voice Team member.

“The PBIS committee can be an effective tool by positively impacting the overall culture and morale of the school,” The Lamplighter quoted that student as saying. “By increasing factors like school spirit, we could see direct impacts to work ethic, attendance, and student relations. It is important that students have a say in this process as well to ensure the most effective strategies are implemented.”

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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